What do the Taj Mahal in India and the pyramids in Egypt have in commun with the Grand Place and many other beautiful spots in Brussels? Well they are all UNESCO World Heritage sites, which is no small honour...
Earning a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list is no mean feat. A site must have "an outstanding and universal value" and satisfy at least one of ten specific selection criteria. Brussels' Grand Place was added to the list in 1998 having resoundingly filled the selection requirements and since then more and more extraordinary Brussels sites and landmarks have earned their place on the prestigious list. You'll find them all below!
The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) is a section of the United Nations Organisation created in 1945 after the 20th century's two world wars. So as not to be limited to understanding and economic and political solidarity, its goal is to expand international agreements in the intellectual and moral spheres.
The Grand Place in Brussels was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998. UNESCO sees this square as being "an outstanding example of the eclectic and highly successful blending of architectural and artistic styles that characterises the culture and society of this region". It "illustrates in an exceptional way the evolution and achievements of a highly successful mercantile city of northern Europe at the height of its prosperity".
It has been a marketplace since the 12th century (the "Nedermerckt" or "Lower Market"), and it was lined by houses and market halls, which are still mostly built of wood. The Gothic City Hall was built in the 15th century in three stages; it was also in this century that the guilds established themselves in the houses around the Grand Place. After being bombarded by Louis XIV's troops in 1695, it was almost entirely rebuilt. Significant restoration and modification work was also carried out in the following centuries.
Major townhouses by architect Victor Horta
Four buildings by the great Belgian architect Victor Horta were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. These houses are considered by UNESCO to be "outstanding examples of Art Nouveau" architecture and "works of human creative genius, representing the highest expression of the influential Art Nouveau style in art and architecture". This style was seen as being a radically new approach, prefiguring subsequent developments.
This building is considered to be the seminal work of Art Nouveau in Brussels. It is a townhouse designed in 1893 by Horta and commissioned by its owner Emile Tassel, a professor at the ULB and a Freemason, like Horta. As a house for a bachelor living with his grandmother, Tassel wanted to be able to invite friends there and pursue his scientific research. The major elements of art nouveau can be found here: an exposed metal structure, decoration integrated into the structure, large areas lit by natural light (glass), etc.
This building, designed for the needs of a large 19th-century bourgeois family, was built at the end of the 1890s at the request of industrialist Armand Solvay. The house is undoubtedly one of Horta's most accomplished works as he had the advantage of almost unlimited funds and a perfect understanding with his client. The elements of the art nouveau style are strongly featured: an exposed structure of columns, pillars and metal beams, open spaces, natural light and even a natural climate control system!
Hôtel van Eetvelde
Located close to the European district, this building was designed in 1895 for Edmund van Eetvelde, a diplomat and Secretary-General of the Congo Free State. The house next door (number 2) was also designed by the same architect on commission again from van Eetvelde and was intended to be a rental property. The main house has, among other elements characteristic of Horta's style, large numbers of exposed metal elements, a winter garden surmounted by a magnificent light shaft and a broad façade with an industrial appearance.
Victor Horta's house and studio
These two houses were designed by the architect between 1898 and 1901. Number 23 was his architecture office and sculpture workshop and number 25 was his home. White stone façades, structural elements integrated into the ornamentation, high quality ironwork, natural light from bay windows and skylights in the roof... all elements typical of Horta and his artistry.
This building was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2009 as "a masterpiece of the creative genius of the Vienna Secession", an Austrian adaptation of Art Nouveau. "It is a remarkably well conserved symbol of constructive and aesthetic modernity in the West at the start of the 20th century" and "exercised a considerable influence on modernism in architecture and the birth of Art Deco".
Built on one of Brussels' main avenues between 1905 and 1911, the building was designed by the Austrian Joseph Hoffman and is his masterpiece. The owner, Adolphe Stoclet, was a banker and art collector. Designed with no financial or aesthetic limitations, the palace and gardens together display clean, geometrical lines, marking a break with Art Nouveau.
This event in Brussels folklore has been on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2008. It joined the list with a series of similar events in Belgium and France under the title "Processional Giants and Dragons in Belgium and France". These events are considered to "encompass an original ensemble of festive popular manifestations and ritual representations. They represent mythical heroes or animals, contemporary local figures, historical, biblical or legendary characters or trades."
The Meyboom, which consists of planting a tree at a crossroads, is a folkloric tradition whose origins date back to the 13th century. It is said that this tradition came about after a dispute between the towns of Brussels and Leuven about collecting taxes on beer. The people of Brussels gained the upper hand and received the privilege of planting a tree every 9 August before 5 pm. Failing to do so would have seen the privilege be handed over to rival city Leuven!
Belgian beer culture
It’s no surprise that the brewers’ guild occupies such a prominent place on Brussels’ Grand Place: beer is in separable from Brussels and Belgium as a whole, which is home to more than 200 breweries and 2,500 types of beer. Not only do we have our abbeys - who started brewing beer in the Middle Ages - to thank for this international reputation, but also our wide variety of beer types like geuze lambiek, which has been brewed in Brussels by Cantillon brewery since 1900. In 2016 Belgian beer culture was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list as recognition of the important role that it plays in everyday life and celebrations in Belgium.